You won’t find a Starbucks in Julian, California—or a Taco Bell. Not even a McDonald’s arch will you sit under squirting ketchup onto greasy fries. This is one of America’s small towns left without one single franchise—of any kind. And it is appealing. It is underdog. It takes guts these days to remain unique, to not succumb to commercialization.
The 4th of July parade in Julian remained true to the quintessential American experience. For an hour and a half it was 1950. And it’s 1950 in Julian every day if you ignore the parked Hyundais and crotch rockets of visitors.
Before the parade my husband and I stuffed our pockets with dollar bills in anticipation of having to purchase water at $3 a bottle. But I forgot … it’s 1950. This is Julian, and we arrived to strategically placed Julian citizens passing out FREE bottled water. And they conversed with people, genuinely interested in discovering a little bit about the tourists visiting their fine town.
Main Street, amply lined with American flags, and flags from every state, soaked in the sunshine. Old wooden buildings popped against a clear blue sky. The parade commenced with the unrolling of Old Glory as big as a house. Any parade goer could participate by clutching an edge of the fabric and marching the huge symbol of freedom down the parade route. Chilling, really, regardless of who you think should occupy the White House.
Sprinkled between vintage cars, Clydesdales, beauty queens, fire trucks and the floats of local establishments, marched a few bands. The Grand Pacific Band with a history of performing in the Julian parade for a decade and the Emerald Society Bagpipe Band, entertained folks with classic Independence Day music. A group of mariachis rolled by on a flatbed truck, and another with two guys—one plucking a banjo and the other a guitar. They sat on hay bales and dueled music.
My attention travelled to a man who used his walker to inch his way to a place curbside. It took him a full minute to get the walker turned around so he could then use it as a seat. His navy blue hat with yellow embroidery told me that he had fought in WWII. When the announcer asked all veterans to stand I held my breath as he placed his hands on the side railings of his walker. Little blue veins bulged on his forearms. He’s gonna do this. The American flag pin on his hat glinted sunlight. He focused on the post of the general store. You are a hero. He moved his feet closer together, now clasped with velcro straps because he could no longer tie his own shoes. He once defended a country that he loves, and one that he struggles to understand now. He sucked in a long breath. You’re one of the remaining old-school guys. He pushed himself to standing. You are amazing. Through his hearing aid he absorbed the applause. Thank you. With his lips he mouthed the words to every single patriotic song he heard. My heart wept. We need more people like you.
I’m grateful to have discovered this gem of an underdog town, and honored to have written 80% of For Underdogs Only here—in a campground called Pinezanita that was established in 1968 by a long-standing Julian family. Julian is America. It’s filled with people who work hard and do the right thing. They have pride and with any luck won’t change. Ever.